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Air India's flight reaches Israel using Saudi airspace for first time

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"I am pleased that the great efforts we made with Air India over the last two years are bearing fruit and a direct route from New Delhi to Israel has now opened", Tourism Minister Yariv Levine stated.

"The first direct flight to Israel through Saudi airspace reflects the positive change that is gradually taking place in the region", Katz tweeted Friday morning.

Many Arab and Islamic nations do not recognise Israel and, therefore, disallow airlines from using their airspace for flight services to that country.

Israel's national carrier El Al now operates an India service to Mumbai that takes a detour over the Red Sea to avoid flying over Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Israel's national carrier El Al now operates an India service to Mumbai that takes a detour over the Red Sea to avoid flying over Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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It will leave New Delhi at 6 PM Indian time and arrive at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport at 9:45 PM on Thursday.

In February, when Saudi Arabia approved Israel-bound flights to pass over its territories, critics noted that the kingdom was granting an official enemy state privileges it has denied to its neighbour Qatar. "The return flight has seen much better bookings with 80 per cent of the seats booked", said an Air India official. With the permission, India is now able to adopt a shorter route by flying over Ahmedabad, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to reach Tel Aviv. Though Air India is saddled with huge debt (currently at Rs 51,890 crore), acquiring the airline can help boost the acquirer in terms of foot print, bilteral flying rights, parking slots, etc.

The decision is spurring many observers to query the implications of such a move in light of the Saudi Kingdom's new regional aspirations.

Interviewed on Israel's Army Radio, Levin voiced confidence that El Al would eventually be allowed to use Saudi airspace. World number 2 shuttler, Sindhu, had said that she had experienced an "unsatisfactory" treatment en route her flight to Mumbai. "It's small but significant", he said.

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